Talking bird

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Video of a caged Orange-winged Amazon saying "Hello" having been prompted by visitors.

Talking birds are birds that can mimic the spoken language of humans. There is debate within the scientific community over whether some talking parrots also have some cognitive understanding of the language. Birds have varying degrees of talking ability: some, like the corvids, are able to mimic only a few words and phrases, while some budgerigars have been observed to have a vocabulary of almost 2,000 words. The Hill Myna, a common pet, is well known for its talking ability and its relative, the European Starling, is also adept at mimicry.[1] Wild cockatoos in Australia have been reported to have learned human speech by cultural transmission from ex-captive birds that have integrated into the flock.[2]

The earliest reference to a talking bird comes from Ctesias in 5th century BCE. The bird which he called Bittacus,[3] may have been a plum-headed parakeet.[4]


The young of some birds learn to communicate by social learning, imitating their parents, as well as the dominant birds of their flock. Lacking vocal cords, birds are thought to make tones and sounds using throat muscles and membranes – the syrinx in particular.[5]

Songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds are the three groups of birds able to learn new sounds,[5] though not necessarily words.[citation needed] Pet birds can be taught to speak by their owners by mimicking their voice. If then introduced to wild birds, the wild birds may also mimic the new sounds. This phenomenon has been observed in Sydney, Australia, with wild parrots uttering phrases such as "Hello darling!" and "What's happening?" in parks.[5]




Common parakeets (Melopsittacus undulatus), or budgerigars, are a popular talking-bird species because of their potential for large vocabularies, ease of care and well-socialized demeanor.[6] Between 1954 and 1962, a budgerigar named "Sparkie" held the record for having the largest vocabulary of a talking bird; at his death, he knew 531 words and 383 sentences.[3] In 1995, a budgerigar named "Puck" was credited by Guinness World Records as having the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words.[7]

Amazon parrots[edit]

Many species of the genus Amazona, particularly the Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix),[8] are outstanding talkers. Yellow-napes (Amazona auropalliata), Yellow-crowned (Amazona ochrocephala) and Panama Amazons (Amazona ochrocephala panamensis) are highly regarded as talking parrots.[citation needed] They tend to relate sounds to relationships more than the African Grey Parrots, and therefore outperform the African Grey Parrots in more social environments.

African Grey Parrot[edit]

The African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are particularly noted for their advanced cognitive abilities and their ability to talk.

"Alex" had a vocabulary of about 100 words, substantially less than world record holders,[9] but he is perhaps the best known talking bird due to the publicity surrounding his potential cognitive abilities. In learning to speak, Alex showed scientist Irene Pepperberg that he understood categories like "same and different" and "bigger and smaller". He could identify objects by their shape ("Three-corner", "Four-corner", up to "Six-corner") and material: when shown a pom-pom or a wooden block, he could answer "Wool" or "Wood" correctly, about 80% of the time. Alex could identify the difference between yellow and green same-sized objects by saying "Color" or identify a larger one by naming its color. If asked what the difference was between two identical blue keys, Alex learned to reply, "None" (he pronounced it "Nuh").[10] [11][12] Alex died on September 6, 2007.[13]

"Prudle" held the Guinness World Record for the bird with the biggest vocabulary for many years with a documented vocabulary of 800 words.[14]

"N'kisi" is noted for his impressive English usage skills and other abilities. As of January 2004, he had a documented vocabulary of 950 words. N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.[15]

"Einstein" appeared on many television shows and became famous for her ability to recreate sounds as well as talking. Video clips show her making the sound of a laser beam generator and an evil-sounding laugh. She has been trained by Stephanie White.[16]

"Bibi", a Congo African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus erithacus), is able to use greetings from 20 different languages and count in 6, earning her the nickname "The Polyglot Parrot." At 6 years old, Bibi has already developed a vocabulary of more than 500 words.[17]

Other parrots[edit]

Most parrot species are capable of mimicking human words. Many can learn to use phrases in context; they can also be trained to imitate any words. Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) are also reputed to be skilled talkers.[citation needed]


Hill Mynahs[edit]

Hill Mynahs (tropical members of the starling family of birds) are renowned for their ability to mimic the human voice. It has been claimed that the Hill Mynah is the best talking bird and the best mimic in the world.[18]

Other birds that can mimic the human voice include Corvids, Mockingbirds, Starlings[citation needed] and Lyrebirds.[19]

In fiction[edit]

Talking birds are used as a plot element in fiction, notably in many works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Talking Starlings". Starling Talk. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  2. ^ Price, Hannah (September 15, 2011). "Birds of a feather talk together". Australian Geographic.
  3. ^ a b Mancini, Julie Rach (11 October 2006). Why Does My Bird Do That: A Guide to Parrot Behavior. John Wiley & Sons. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-470-08493-9. 
  4. ^ Nichols, Andrew (2013). Ctesias: On India. A&C Black. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-4725-1998-6. 
  5. ^ a b c Lane, Megan (16 September 2011). "How can birds teach each other to talk?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Souza, Anton (January 24, 2013). "Top 3 Best Talking Parrots". Bird
  7. ^ Claire Folkard (ed.). Guinness World Records 2004. Guinness World Records Limited. p. 54. ISBN 0-85112-180-2. 
  8. ^ Larry Lachman, Diane Grindol, and Frank Kocher (2003). Birds Off the Perch: Therapy and Training for Your Pet Bird. Simon and Schuster. p. 7. ISBN 0-7432-2704-2. 
  9. ^ Pepperberg, Irene Maxine (2000). The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674000513. 
  10. ^ Smith, Dinitia (October 9, 1999). "A Thinking Bird or Just Another Birdbrain?". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Researchers explore whether parrot has concept of zero". World Science. July 2, 2005.
  12. ^ Talbot, Margaret Talbot (MAY 12, 2008). "BIRDBRAIN: The woman behind the world’s chattiest parrots.". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  13. ^ Carey, Benedict (September 10, 2007). "Alex, a Parrot Who Had a Way With Words, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  14. ^ "African Grey Parrot Species Profile". Pet Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  15. ^ Morelle, Rebecca (May 1, 2007). "Animal world's communication kings". BBC News. 
  16. ^ " Einstein the Parrot". TED. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  17. ^ "All About Bibi". 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  18. ^ Butterfield, Kathy. "Hill Mynah". Mynah Bird Home Page. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  19. ^ Forde, M. "Lyrebird: The bird that can mimic any sound in the world.". Retrieved January 23, 2014. 
  20. ^ Athan, Mattie Sue (1 November 2009). Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior. Barron's Educational Series. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7641-4213-0. 

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